By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Venezuela’s avowedly leftist President Hugo Chávez could find himself becoming the object of unwanted attention at an upcoming meeting of the International Socialists if a delegation from the opposition gets its way.
Opposition representatives intend to submit a document accusing Chávez of violent and anti-democratic conduct and violating the constitution at a regional summit of the International Socialists in Guatemala on March 23 and 24.
Parties backing the move include Acción Democrática (AD) and Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), both of which are founding members of the organization, and the social democratic party, Podemos, a “fraternal” member.
Also backing the document is Un Nuevo Tiempo, the party centered on besieged Maracaibo Mayopr Manuel Rosales, along with Alianza Bravo Pueblo, which was founded by Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma. He, too, has been a target of harassment by government sympathizers, apparently in cohorts with the National Guard, since being elected mayor at last November’s regional elections.
Spokesmen for the group say the document will denounce Chávez for having taken the country to the edge of a violent confrontation by refusing to recognize opposition state governors and municipal mayors since they were elected last year.
The document will also claim that Chávez has “obliged” the National Assembly to modify laws on the decentralization of power, in the process returning Venezuela to the centralism common to authoritarian regimes.
The Assembly is all but entirely dominated by Chávez’ ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its small allies. Chávez recently rebuked legislators for not doing their share of the work carrying through his Bolivarian Revolution and since then the Assembly has sprung into a flurry of action.
Last week, it rushed through a second debate to approve a reform of three Articles of the Decentralization Law. This paved the way for Chávez to order the military to take control of ports, airports and highways in three states controlled by the opposition, Carabobo, Zulia and Nueva Esparta.
There are doubts about whether the reforms were actually the law of the land when Chávez issued his order last Sunday, but this issue hasn’t been raised at the Assembly. Instead, on Thursday, legislators approved a motion to “revert” two airports, one in Carabobo and the other in Zulia, to national rather than regional control.
Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello asked the legislature to put the two airports under government control on the grounds that they were public utilities.
Cabello is a former comrade in arms of the president who is reputed to have driven his tank on to the steps at the presidential palace, Miraflores, during the failed coup d’etat which first brought Chávez into public view in 1992.
Cabello lost his bid for re-election as Miranda state governor last November. After the election, Cabello was appointed Infrastructure Minister. The housing portfolio was absorbed into his ministry, which was then renamed, at a Cabinet shuffle earlier this month.
Deputy Iris Varela, a fiery pro-Chávez legislature, asked that two airports in her home state, Táchira, also be transferred to government control. Táchira is one of three states where political control switched from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to the opposition at last November’s regional elections.
Reports reaching Caracas Thursday said that workers at Maracaibo port had staged a protest against the state takeover. A spokesman claimed that the takeover was no more than government caprice.
There were also once again stirrings of unrest in the state health and education sectors. Medical staff at the Central Hospital in San Cristóbal, capital of Táchira, declared a strike. They said they would only attend to emergencies until there was an explanation as to why a promised bonus had not been paid.
In Caracas, teachers announced that they would go on a national strike starting on Wednesday next week in support of their demand for a pay rise. They are also pressing the government for guarantees to the right to work and job security.